CHARITY WHOSE ALMS FOR WHOSE POOR?

On Friday, January 22, 1988, all was well at Holy Trinity Ministry to the Poor. The seven-year-old ministry to the homeless and the destitute was feeding a hot lunch to as many as a hundred people a day and counseling as many as sixty souls daily. The ministry’s rundraising was very successful-its budget was upwards of $300,000 annually. The Holy Trinity Catholic Parish provided $55,000 of that budget for salaries. But the next day, police officer John Glenn Chase was murdered. His deranged killer was reportedly one of Dallas’s homeless, and that changed the future of the Trinity ministry.

Since that day, says Richard Chase (no relation to the officer), whose Chaise Lounge helped to contribute some $18,000 to the ministry last year, the ministry has been a political football within the Oak Lawn parish. Some parish members likened the ministry’s clients to the officer’s murderer and worried that the street people who came to the ministry would pose a threat to children attending the church school. They began to pressure the parish priest, Father Louis Arceneaux, to get rid of the ministry. That was troubling for Pam Schaefer, the ministry’s director. Last fall, knowing it was past time to expand the ministry from its small building on the campus of the parish, Schaefer requested permission from Arceneaux to install a modular building on the parish grounds. With the priest’s approval, she marched boldly forward, raising money with the help of her board members. By January, a foundation had been laid and plumbing and electrical work was well under way. But the week after officer Chase was killed, Arceneaux ordered the demolition of some $20,000 worth of construction and effectively halted any expansion.

Will Browning, who contributed $12,000 to the Holy Trinity ministry for that expansion, says he just can’t understand the destruction. Browning says he asked for an accounting of his money but has yet to receive an answer.

And now, others are asking questions about money they contributed to Holy Trinity Ministry to the Poor, including the Rosewood Foundation, which gave $5,000, and Chase. Since the demolition, the relationship between Arceneaux and his staff at the ministry deteriorated. This spring, Arceneaux saw the ministry expanding beyond his scope, becoming a citywide service that no longer served just those who were part of his Oak Lawn parish. Then, on April 8, the priest fired Schaefer and gave her two hours to get out, board members say. The entire ministry staff resigned in protest and left with Schaefer. But when they left to set up a new Trinity Ministry down the street, the $60,000 they had raised stayed in the bank in Holy Trinity’s ministry account.

Board members, aghast at what had happened, left the Holy Trinity ministry and supported Schaefer and her staff. Other nonprofit organizations, knowing Schaefer’s great track record, were very supportive. But in July, typically a tough month to raise money, cash flow came to a grinding halt, and board members renewed efforts to get that $60,000 left in the bank. But the church maintains that the money belongs to its own ministry, since, technically, that is the organization to which it was given.

Jess Johnson, a former board member for Holy Trinity Ministry and now a board member for the new ministry, says that the money morally belongs to the new organization. He adds that there is “ongoing dialogue” between lawyers for both groups to resolve the financial dispute.

But Schaefer still feels an official blessing from the Catholic church is needed to move forward psychologically and heal the rift. Trinity Ministry had tried to get that blessing when it invited the parish’s Father Arceneaux to sit on its board or to attend an open house in June. But Arceneaux rejected both pleas. In July, Johnson and Schaefer took their case to Catholic Bishop Thomas Tschoepe, but when D went to press, they were still waiting- for the blessing and for the $60,000.

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